Find out how Cordlife Singapore is pioneering experimental trials using umbilical cord blood to treat children with autism
Some of us may know a child, or a parent who has a child diagnosed with autism.
Personally, I have a nephew who was diagnosed with mild autism when he was younger. It was heart-breaking for his mother to discover and accept the fact. Over the years, their family had to bear the hefty cost of sending him for speech therapies, medical checks and socio-communication classes as supportive treatments. But all of these sacrifices were worth it in the end, as he now goes to a mainstream primary school and has shown significant improvement in his development.
What is autism?
Autism is a life-long developmental disorder, and unfortunately, there is no cure at the moment. One in 167 people in Singapore are affected with autism, and 216 new cases of children with autism are being diagnosed annually in Singapore. It is a heterogeneous disease, which involves multiple risks factors besides genetics.
All these compelling reasons point to the necessity of a medical treatment to be explored – to inch closer to a solution and improve the overall quality of life for the child.
Stem cells – The latest breakthrough to treat autism
Stems cells have proven useful in the treatment of over 80 diseases, including cancer and various blood disorders. With the advancement of medical and technological knowledge, Cordlife has taken the first step to embark on the possibility of carrying out an experimental treatment of autism in Singapore.
Dr Michael G. Chez, a leading Neurologist and Director of Paediatric Neurology and Paediatric Epilepsy at the Sutter Medical Group and Sutter Neuroscience Institute, has pioneered similar studies in the United States. Recently, it’s been announced that Dr Chez will be partnering up with Cordlife to embark on this study of child autism here in Singapore.
We had the pleasure to meet with Dr Chez and Dr Tang Kin Fai, Deputy Laboratory Director for Cordlife, who addressed the treatments that are possible with stem cells. With autologous (patient’s own) cord blood stem cell, the risk for graft versus host diseases is highly minimised, thanks to the 100% match – as compared to allogeneic options (e.g. receiving cord blood stem cell from a sibling).
This means that the patient’s body would be more receptive to receiving his own cord blood stem cells, which minimises the risk factors of the treatment. Thus, children with autism will undergo a procedure whereby their own cord blood stem cells that were stored in the cord blood banks at birth will be transferred into their systems.
Read more about the plans on the stem cell trial for childhood autism on the next page.